Fire Safety in the Dive Industry: Part 2

By Francois Burman, Pr. Eng., M.Sc.

 Planning for a fire emergency
If a fire happens, comprehensive preparation including extinguishers, evacuation plans and regular drills will help lessen the impact on your business, equipment, staff and customers.

Preventing fires is paramount, but we need to be prepared to deal with fire emergencies when they occur. A trained firefighter will advise us to get out quickly and leave the firefighting to those who are trained to do so. We do not always have this option, however, so learn what to have in place to ensure the safety of all.
Fire Extinguishers

Different types of fires require different kinds of extinguishers. Do a careful analysis of where fires are most likely to occur, and appropriately equip your business, filling station, workshop, boat, vehicle and perhaps even your dive site.
  • Use water or foam to contain fires fueled by wood, paper, trash, textiles and other ordinary products.
  • Use carbon dioxide, halon or foam where flammable liquids and gases are burning.
  • Use carbon dioxide or dry powder for electrical fires.
  • Use wet chemical (a soapy foam) for fires caused by cooking oils and fats in a kitchen.

Maintenance is also essential. You do not want to find yourself with an extinguisher that's out of propellant gas or media, missing a nozzle, has a dislodged dip-tube or one that can't be located when you need it most.

It's important to have some training with using an extinguisher. Without it, you could get trapped, spread the fire or use the wrong extinguisher for the type of fire, resulting in a burn or possibly acceleration of the fire.

Preparation and Planning
Does the classroom in your dive shop have an emergency exit that will work when the room is dark and filled with smoke? Signage indicating where the extinguishers and emergency exit routes are located will save valuable time in containing a fire. Be sure to place extinguishers in strategic locations with escape routes behind them. A fire alarm, preferably connected to the local fire station or emergency services department, is paramount. Ensure that your evacuation route is always kept clear. If there are changes to the building, furniture or hazardous areas, update your evacuation plan accordingly.

Emergency action plans are essential. Adhere to the following best practices:
  • Where the fire is fast and spreading, evacuate and count heads.
  • A small, containable fire can be managed using appropriate extinguishers and with training.
  • If it is not possible to contain the fire, contain the area — close the doors to isolate the fire even if only temporarily, sound the alarm, get out, and stay out.
  • Under no circumstances should anyone go back inside to rescue anyone or anything — you will place the firefighters in more danger.
  • No plan is effective without realistic and regular drills.

Get to know your local firefighting service. Consult them for advice if you are unsure of best practices for fire safety preparation.

Fires can usually be prevented, prepared for and managed. The cost of being ready doesn't measure up to potential losses or a fatality. Planning for a fire emergency will protect your staff and business investment.

© Alert Diver — Q1 Winter 2019

Among the lessons we've learned from accident and incident reports is that fires can occur almost anywhere, including dive centers, equipment stores, workshops, fill stations, boats and vehicles. To better manage the risk of fire, we need to consider a few basic principles.

First, fire is fast, hot and deadly. When a fire breaks out, there is little time to think or react. We need to know right away what to do and then take all the steps required to contain the fire and manage the situation.

Second, three elements are required to create and sustain fire: flammable material, oxygen and an ignition source. Fire is essentially a chemical reaction between fuel and oxygen triggered by a heat source. Knowing these elements is useful because removing, containing or controlling any one of them can prevent a fire.

The most manageable fire is one that is prevented. Prevention, however, requires us to be aware of many potential ignition sources. Here is a list to help you identify areas of concern.

Electrical concerns
•overloading electrical power outlets
•positioning electrical heaters incorrectly
•leaving appliances on when not in use
•removing plugs from outlets before turning off appliances
•placing power cords under carpets or in traffic areas using damaged wiring and plugs

Machinery and equipment
•providing poor maintenance, which can lead to overheating and excessive power draw
•placing machinery in congested areas, among other equipment or surrounded by flammable materials
•disregarding oil leaks, drips and spills
•using heating tools in a workshop where combustible materials are present
•lacking appropriate electrical grounding and ground fault protection systems

Chemical reactions
•allowing chemicals to mix as a result of poor storage, spills or leaks
•keeping pool chemicals, cleaning solutions, solvents, gasoline or paints in unsafe or uncontrolled areas

Spontaneous combustion
•keeping excessive amounts of oil-soaked rags in one place
•leaving lids off volatile products
•allowing large amounts of decaying organic materials to collect in an uncontrolled space

Human behaviors
•smoking, especially in areas of concern
•disposing hot ash in garbage bins
•packing or storing together combustible materials
•allowing messy and cluttered workspaces
•being ignorant

Gases and volatile fuels
•storing more oxygen or flammable liquids in one location than necessary
•placing oxygen and flammable gas cylinders on hot surfaces or in a hot environment
•servicing, connecting, transferring or using oxygen in areas that contain heat sources or are not oxygen-clean
•using faulty equipment
•allowing smoke, welding, brazing or open flames near flammable gas cylinders or liquids
•providing insufficient ventilation in rooms where oxygen or flammable gases or liquids are used or stored

Be aware that not all fires are the same. Managing different types of burning materials or structures can require entirely different containment and extinguishing actions. Taking inappropriate action or using an improper firefighting product can cause more damage to buildings, equipment or people than the fire itself.

While prevention is key, being aware, prepared, trained and equipped will ensure the best possible outcome in a fire. Do not try to be brave; if you are unsure, untrained or responsible for others, evacuate, and leave the firefighting to the professionals.

© Alert Diver — Q4 Fall 2018


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